Learning the Secret of Self-Sufficiency

In an encouraging letter to the Christians in Philippi, the apostle Paul wrote: “I have learned, in whatever circumstances I am, to be self-sufficient. . . . In everything and in all circumstances I have learned the secret of both how to be full and how to hunger, both how to have an abundance and how to suffer want.”​—Philippians 4:11, 12.

What was the secret of Paul’s self-sufficiency? Considering the high cost of living and the economic instability of our time, it would surely be beneficial for true Christians to learn how to be self-sufficient so that they can keep focused on their service to God.

EARLIER in his letter, Paul recounted his former successful career. He said: “If any other man thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I the more so: circumcised the eighth day, out of the family stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born from Hebrews; as respects law, a Pharisee; as respects zeal, persecuting the congregation; as respects righteousness that is by means of law, one who proved himself blameless.” (Philippians 3:4-6) In addition, as a zealous Jew, Paul had a commission from and the backing of the chief priests in Jerusalem. All of this promised him power and prestige​—political, religious, and no doubt financial—​in the Jewish system.​—Acts 26:10, 12.

When Paul became a zealous Christian minister, however, things changed drastically. For the sake of the good news, he willingly gave up his successful career and all that was previously considered important. (Philippians 3:7, 8) How was he now to care for himself? Would he be receiving wages as a minister? How would his personal needs be provided for?

Paul performed his ministry without any payment. So as not to be a burden on those he ministered to, he joined Aquila and Priscilla in tentmaking while in Corinth, and he did other things as well to sustain himself. (Acts 18:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8-10) Paul made three extensive missionary journeys, and he also traveled to congregations that needed a visit. Since he was fully occupied with the service of God, he had few material possessions. Usually the brothers provided for his needs. Sometimes, though, because of adverse circumstances, he suffered want and deprivation. (2 Corinthians 11:27; Philippians 4:15-18) Even so,  Paul never complained about his lot, and he did not covet what others had. He willingly and happily worked hard for the benefit of fellow Christians. In fact, it was Paul who quoted the well-known words of Jesus: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” What an outstanding example for all of us!​—Acts 20:33-35.

The Meaning of Self-Sufficiency

A major factor that contributed to Paul’s happiness and satisfaction was his sense of self-sufficiency. What, though, does it mean to be self-sufficient? Simply stated, it means being content with the basic things. Regarding this, Paul told Timothy, his companion in the ministry: “To be sure, it is a means of great gain, this godly devotion along with self-sufficiency. For we have brought nothing into the world, and neither can we carry anything out. So, having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.”​—1 Timothy 6:6-8.

Note that Paul associated self-sufficiency with godly devotion. He recognized that true happiness comes from godly devotion, that is, from putting our service to God in first place, and not from material possessions or wealth. “Sustenance and covering” were but the means to the end that he could continue pursuing godly devotion. So for Paul the secret of self-sufficiency was to rely on Jehovah, no matter what the circumstances might be.

Many people today experience much anxiety and unhappiness because they are unaware of that secret or they ignore it. Rather than cultivating self-sufficiency, they prefer to put their trust in money and what money can buy. The advertising industry and the media make people feel that they cannot  be happy unless they have the latest and the fanciest products and gadgets​—and have them right away. Consequently, many fall prey to the pursuit of money and material things. Instead of finding happiness and satisfaction, they “fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin.”​—1 Timothy 6:9, 10.

They Have Learned the Secret

In this day and age, is it really possible to live with godly devotion and self-sufficiency and find happiness and satisfaction? Yes, it is. In fact, millions of people today are doing just that. They have learned the secret of being happy with what material things they have. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have dedicated themselves to God, doing his will and teaching people everywhere his purpose.

 Consider, for example, those who have volunteered to be trained and sent out as missionaries to unfamiliar lands to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14) Frequently, the living conditions in lands to which they are sent are not as materially advanced as what they were used to. For instance, when missionaries arrived in one Asian country early in 1947, the effects of war were still in evidence, and few homes had electric lights. In many lands, the missionaries found that laundry was done piece by piece on a washboard or on rocks at a river instead of with an electric washing machine. But they had come to teach people Bible truth, so they adjusted to local conditions and got busy in the ministry.

Others have taken up the ministry full-time or have moved to areas not yet reached with the good news. Adulfo has served as a full-time minister for more than 50 years in various parts of Mexico. He says: “Like the apostle Paul, my wife and I have learned to adapt ourselves to the circumstances. For instance, one of the congregations we visited was far away from any city or market. At each meal, the brothers were content with having only one tortilla with a little lard and salt and a cup of coffee. That was all they had to eat​—three tortillas a day. So we learned to live just like the brothers. I have enjoyed many experiences like this during the 54 years that I have been serving Jehovah full-time.”

Florentino remembers how he and his family had to adapt to difficult circumstances. Recalling his early days, he says: “My father was a prosperous merchant. He owned many pieces of land. I still remember the counter at the grocery store that we owned. There was a drawer about 20 inches [50 cm] wide and 8 inches [20 cm] deep, and it had four compartments. There we deposited the day’s receipts. At the end of the day, it was always filled to overflowing with coins and bills.

“Then all of a sudden, we experienced a financial setback and went from having an abundance to being in want. We lost everything except our home. Besides this, one of my brothers had an accident and ended up a paraplegic. Nothing was the same anymore. For a time I worked selling fruits and meat. I also harvested cotton, grapes, and alfalfa, and I participated in irrigating the fields. Some people called me a jack of all trades. My mother often comforted us by saying that we had the truth, a spiritual richness that few had. So I learned to have much and also to have little or nothing. Now that I have served Jehovah full-time for some 25 years, I can say that day after day I have experienced the blessing of knowing that I have chosen the best way of life​—serving Jehovah full-time.”

The Bible pointedly tells us that “the scene of this world is changing.” For this reason, it also urges us: “[Let] those who rejoice [be] as those who do not rejoice, and those who buy as those not possessing, and those making use of the world as those not using it to the full.”​—1 Corinthians 7:29-31.

Now is therefore the time to take a closer look at your way of life. If you are in limited circumstances, be on guard against becoming resentful, even filled with bitterness and envy. On the other hand, whatever material possessions you may have, it would be wise to assign them a proper place in life so that they do not become a master over you. As the apostle Paul admonished, by all means rest your hope, “not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment.” If you do that, then you too can say that you have learned the secret of self-sufficiency.​—1 Timothy 6:17-19.

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Paul worked with his own hands so as not to be a burden to others

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Thousands are finding happiness in a life of “godly devotion along with self-sufficiency”